A dictionary of Buin, a language of Bougainville (review)


The Buin dictionary is a long-awaited achievement. It contains a forward by Paci2c Linguistics editor Malcolm Ross giving some background (vi–vii); a preface by editor Masayuki Onishi giving more details of how he brought the book to print (viii–ix); a list of abbreviations and conventions (x–xii); a terse grammatical sketch by Don Laycock [L] (xiii–xxvii); the main entries by L (1–256), among them 20 pages of illustrations (on average two pages preceding each initial letter) by L’s wife Tania highlighting cultural and natural objects; and an English–Buin 2nder list (257–326), supplemented by a section on Buin semantic 2elds: fauna, 3ora, kin terms, place names, and personal names (327–55).1 L presents well-written de2nitions for thousands of Buin words and enough grammar fragments to parse the interesting example phrases and sentences that expand most de2nitions. This review is con2ned to providing more context and to quibbling about some of the choices made in the presentation of L’s work. The quibbles may highlight choices many of us documenting languages face. The context will show that L’s effort succeeds both as an independent witness to the genius of this language and as an important tool in piecing together the development of the South Buin family and in evaluating the East Papuan phylum. As editor, Onishi wisely kept the volume as primarily L’s work, only revising when he found evidence within the manuscript, thus avoiding hard-to-contain revisions from his own experience. Onishi missed few clues, but he grossly overlooked L’s previous publications on Buin. In particular, hundreds of mysterious poetic transforms of names are included without even being identi2ed as such. Laycock (1969) detailed the processes. The Buin dictionary project actually started in 1908. The German anthropologist Richard Thurnwald worked among the Buin just about the time missionaries and German administrators were getting established in Bougainville. L encountered the Buin language in 1963, when he called on Frau Thurnwald in Berlin (Melk-Koch 1992). With a PhD from ANU, L had recently established himself as a scholar of Sepik languages. He sought and obtained linguistic materials collected in the Sepik by the generous Frau’s late husband. As a bonus, he wound up with a manuscript dictionary and grammar for Buin, the intended volume 2 of Thurnwald 1912, based on visits to Buin in 1908–9 and 1933–34 (Laycock 1969:2). (That material is now available on micro2lm as Thurnwald 2004.) L was soon hooked. He spent from November 1966 into May 1967 in Paariro Village revising and extending these materials. For the rest of his life, L would tell any reasonably good listener fascinating details of the Buin lan-